How it works
In the case of enduring a journey of a self-discovering awakening, the associated connections made along the way have an impact on the person’s character while determining the outcome of their endeavor to seek a more fulfilling life. Moreover, a lifestyle of societal confinement and distress amplifies the propensity to inspire one’s urge of seeking significant change in life. In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, Edna Pontellier feels detained by her own life. Drowning in her responsibility of being a mother to two young children that she lacks a true connection with, Edna feels alienated by her objection to the idealistic feminine role of the late 1800’s Victorian society. After being treated as nothing more than her husband’s property for years, it awakens Edna to an epiphany of dissatisfaction with her life, prompting her to seek change. From the beginning of the story, Edna’s discontentment with her unaffectionate marriage to Leonce Pontellier is evident. This is shown in sequence with her quickly developing an infatuation with a younger man named Robert Lebrun. In Robert, Edna perceives everything that is missing in Leonce. In Robert’s absence, Edna has a short-lived affair with Alcee Arobin that predominantly serves as a physical relationship as she longs for Robert. By the end of her awakening, each of these men ultimately has their own unique impact on Edna as a person and her journey to free herself from a life of submissive confinement.
To Edna’s dismay, Leonce’s primary concern with her is ensuring the daily fulfillment of her maternal obligations of a typical woman at the time. Within the marriage, “no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection” (23). Leonce being the epitome of the ideal Victorian businessman at the time, had primarily materialistic interests brought upon by his lack of initiative taken in the household. Although Edna married into this Creole culture, its conservative nature only further suppressed her inner desires for a more passionate lifestyle. Between Leonce’s incessant maltreatment and the overwhelming oppression of the Victorian society, Edna reached a point of her own self-discovery in which she started to act upon her internal impulse to achieve independence and freedom. For no woman wants to be viewed by her spouse as “a piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (7). Edna’s wretched marriage to Leonce serves as a window into her awakening of resentment to societal standards. While consistently facing burdens brought upon by her husband and kids, Edna realizes she has no interest in conforming to the prevalent “mother-woman” persona. In Victorian New Orleans, Edna was surrounded by women who submissively glorified their husbands and kids. This ubiquitous presence of the ideal woman pressured Edna to succumb to these overbearing constraints that she simply resented.
How it works
The main driving force behind Edna’s rebellious awakening is her desire for the true, passionate love that lacks from her marriage. Subsequently, Robert Lebrun fulfills this aspiration from her physical to emotional needs and opens her eyes to what love truly is. The passionate love she always desired had awoken her motivation to pursue romantic satisfaction, even if that meant rebelliously having affairs on her husband. Edna had finally secured a passionate romance and her husband seemed like “a person whom she had married without love as an excuse” (82). However, Robert’s traditional views were not a match to Edna’s determination for independence. The pair became immensely attached to one another despite Robert’s desire to attain the married lifestyle amidst Edna already being unhappily married. When Robert left for Mexico, it had “taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything” for Edna (50). Since she could not fully commit herself to Robert in the sense that she was already married, it shed light on Edna’s fate of not reaching true independence in her choices in life. Despite the lengths she went, she could not escape the life she once chose. This became increasingly apparent toward the end of the story when Robert left Edna once and for all, leaving behind only a note that said “I love you. Good-by—because I love you”(117). Robert not only left Edna behind in despair but also in a state of realization that her motives to achieve her own independence and serenity in a society of oppression was inevitably unattainable.
Following Robert’s initial move to Mexico, Edna’s relations with Alcee Arobin began to take place. Edna had no emotional feelings for Arobin as her heart continued to ache for Robert, constantly pondering what he would be thinking if he knew of her actions. Ironically, Edna has remorse for her disloyalty to Robert rather than to her husband. Her physical relations with Arobin “acted like a narcotic upon her” (82). Through this simile, Chopin conveys Edna’s purpose of having the affair with Arobin. Not only was she further exploring her sexuality, but having another romantic figure in her life helped mend her shattered heart in Robert’s absence. He was her drug in the form of a human distraction to numb the pain. Although Arobin enabled Edna to further express herself and rebel against societal norms, the temporary solution only intensified her love for Robert and her yearning for his presence.
Between Edna’s husband and her two affairs, she learned a lot about herself and her narrow capability to gain independence along the journey of her awakening. Throughout the story, Edna is often symbolized by a bird attempting to break free from its cage and ultimately spiraling down into the ocean. When Edna was still living with Leonce, she resembled the constrained bird in dire need to escape. Once she did escape this cage of a home to pursue the passionate love she craved, she found herself overwhelmed with love for a man who wanted different things. Nevertheless, without having met Robert, Edna would never have had the experience of sharing a sincere love with another person, even if that meant engaging in merciless infidelity. The affair with Arobin helped ease her emotional pain and further explore another side of herself, while simultaneously rebelling against the societal standards. Between the three men, Edna gained new perspectives on life itself by releasing the many emotions she was coerced to suppress throughout her marriage amongst a culture and life that she simply never felt at home with.